Kindle vs Sony is becoming an afterthought

After the new Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi came out it became apparent that Nook 2 and the new Sony Readers would have to make some significant advances to keep up.

A much improved Kindle 3 meant Sony and B&N had their work cut out

Here’s a short list of Kindle 3 features that illustrates why Kindle was threatening to leave Nook and Sony Reader behind permanently – 4 weeks battery life with wireless off, faster page turns, Voice Guide, WiFi (Kindle 3 has both WiFi and 3G), free Internet with Kindle 3, better browser, more compact and lighter Kindle, low $139 and $189 prices.

In parallel Amazon has been improving its WhisperNet service, adding Kindle Apps for various platforms, and adding books to the Kindle Store. It has also released two free Kindle Apps and the first paid Kindle app.

B&N needed a very solid Nook 2 and Sony needed a very solid group of Sony Readers and a much better Sony Reader Store to compete. We don’t know what B&N’s answer is but we do know Sony’s answer – Sony 350 and Sony 650.

Sony hasn’t really delivered

Here’s my conclusion from my Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 post -

Sony comes very, very close and if not for its stubborn refusal to add wireless support and compete on price it would have had the better eReader.

As it stands, the Kindle 3 is a clear winner unless you need a touch screen or ePub support or must have an eReader that fits in your pant pocket.

Here’s Engadget’s wrap-up from their Sony 350 review -

The way we see it there are two main reasons you’d buy the $179.99 e-reader over the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook: its incredibly responsive touchscreen navigation and extreme portability.

However, if those don’t appeal to you or you really just prefer having a larger selection of e-books and the ability to buy books over the air via WiFi or 3G, it’s obvious that Amazon’s $139 Kindle with WiFi or its $189 3G version would be a better choice.

Notice the similarities – Touchscreen navigation, ePub support (including support for library books), and extreme portability are the only qualifiers. In every other case Kindle 3 wins.

Sony 350 and 650 have failed to re-ignite the Kindle vs Sony debate

Just to paint a picture of how lopsided the competition is let’s contrast the main advantages -

  1. Sony 350 and Sony 650 – very cute, 350 is super light and compact, ePub and library book support, touch screen, custom screensavers. Better PDF support too – slightly better.
  2. Kindle WiFi and Kindle 3 – much lower price ($139 vs $179, $189 vs $229), better battery life, much better store (book range and price), wireless support and browser, 60 second downloads, infrastructure, Kindle App Store, Text to Speech, Accessibility, and lots of small things.

Even if you’re pro-Sony and hate Amazon you have to admit Sony has dropped the ball. It hasn’t won back the #1 spot, it hasn’t won back the #2 spot, and it might end up an afterthought.

Engadget has been less generous than me and it’s right – There just aren’t that many reasons to buy a Sony Reader. If you really must have ePub support then Nook is a better choice as it offers a much better ebook store.

The gap is going to get bigger

B&N and Amazon are improving their infrastructure and adding apps for additional platforms and improving their stores and offering new features. Sony is offering hollow words – that they will fight on quality.

How can you fight on quality if you aren’t matching your competitors’ features?

No matter how shiny the aluminium of your Sony Reader’s casing it doesn’t make up for high book prices and low selection and the lack of wireless downloads and the lack of Internet browsing for reference.

Sony just isn’t keeping up.

The wild card is the Kindle App Store – It will mean that in addition to Amazon we will have lots of developers adding features to the Kindle 3 and 2 and WiFi. We only need a handful of developers to make killer apps and suddenly Sony is even further behind.

Perhaps most worrying for Sony is that people don’t seem to care about it any more.

Where are the Sony Reader Reviews?

Engadget posted its review on October 8th, 2010. That’s nearly a month after my review and 22 days after the official release date of September 16th, 2010. PC World posted on October 5th. CNet posted its review on September 26th and gave it 6 on features and 7 on performance.

Did Sony not hand out review units? Did people not want to review them? Why is everyone waiting 2 to 3 weeks before reviewing the Sony 350?

There were no ‘exclusives’ and there were no release day reviews. There was no big flurry of reviews and press coverage like we had for Nook and for Kindle 3.

Sony’s release strategy is a mess – either because they don’t care or because people and the Press no longer care. Even Nook WiFi got more press buzz than the new Sony Readers.

Think about that – Nook WiFi got more press coverage than the new generation of Sony Readers. That’s what Sony Reader has devolved too – People don’t even care enough to review the new Sony Readers or write about them when they are first launched.

It makes you wonder if everyone is gradually forgetting that Sony Readers exist. Sony can keep hiding behind excuses like ‘we are focused on international markets’ or ‘we only care about quality’. The truth is that if you release in the biggest eReader market and the Press won’t even review your devices you are just a few steps away from becoming invisible and irrelevant.  

11 Responses

  1. I’ve read that PRS 650 has much better support for PDF than Kindle (i.e reflow & zoom). I hope that later you can add a comparison review.

    Thanks.

  2. Sony has become irrelevant, in more ways than just eReaders. I have been burned more than once by buying into the myth of Sony design and cache, the last time, with the Clie line of PDAs. I swore that would be my last.

    There are simply better products being turned out by more innovative companies, like Panasonic and Samsung.

    I’m a professional product designer. I really do care about well-thought-out products with a forward thinking human interface. I really *want* Sony to matter, but they just don’t any more. Sony ceased innovating when they became too corporate.

    Sony used to be the Apple of the electronics industry. They used to accomplish with style and innovation what other companies only dreamed to do. I just don’t think they care any more. Like too many other companies, they’ve become driven by bean-counters. Nothing wrong with making a decent profit, Apple and HP and many others do and make nicely designed products to boot.

    But don’t tell me that features aren’t important because your box is prettier. That won’t cut it in today’s world. Electronics buyers in 2010 are more sophisticated than that. I want well-designed products that have the features I need and a few more that I haven’t thought of yet. Don’t try to be like Bang & Olufsen, price your products accordingly and turn a deaf ear to the demands of your customers.

  3. Switch, you’re so right. Amazon’s refusal to let the Kindle read even nonDRMed ePub natively is a major disappointment, but so is Sony’s smugness. The current Kindle 3 is a long way from the first Kindle and offers far more value than any of the current Sony models. I especially like the extra (perceived) contrast available with Sans Seriff. And the text to speech is perfect for enjoying books while on long walks. Just finished Nemesis using a mix of TTS and the screen.

    Keep up the great work. I don’t always agree with you, but you have one of the best e-book blogs out there. I like your hands-on pieces and original observations. I hate it when too many items in blogs consist just of blocks of text preceded by a sentence or two. Your work, along with the efforts of others like Nate the Great, is a welcome departure from that kind of dreck.

  4. Your statements are US only oriented. There are no “non-English” language ebooks on Kindle store, guys. French, Spanish, Italian, German publishers are making DRM-Adobe ePUBs.
    Yesterday I received my new Sony PRS-650 and this morning I’ve boxed up my Kindle 3 – and I think I will never use it anymore.
    European customers think wireless is unnecessary and ePUB support essential; I think that the point is: Sony threw in the towel and took up the European market over USA

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s good to get a European perspective.

    • Wait, there are no Spanish language eBooks available on Kindle???

      Yikes. One thing holding me back from buying a Kindle was thinking that it didn’t have a Spanish dictionary for when I read Spanish books, but I didn’t know that I couldn’t actually buy any Spanish books. Aren’t there other ways to get Spanish language books on the Kindle other than in the Kindle store?

    • You’re wrong about no non-English books.

      [Link didn't work]

      • Angela, the big European companies choose ePUB and DRM Adobe. Full stop.
        You can’t tell me that there are foreign languages ebooks on Kindle store because you saw a couple of ebooks from tiny small firms and a few authors who publish themselves.
        How big publishing conglomerates could accept the 35% – 65% agreement which Amazon offers?

  5. To me being able to download books wirelessly is overrated, compared with being able to borrow ebooks from public libraries.

    Until Kindle is updated so it can read epub books it’s very limited for those of use who don’t like having to buy instead of borrow books.

    BTW, At first I too had trouble downloading books to my Sony ereader, but after a quick chat with Sony Support it became a cinch. And I love the touch screen.

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